Food waste diversion in food service enterprises : an analysis of organics diversion plans in Austin, Texas




Umlas, Jason Todd

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As a major component of municipal landfills, food waste produces greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change; food waste is the largest component of Austin’s municipal waste. Food waste diversion can impact a range of public health concerns including food insecurity and climate change mitigation. Reducing food waste is a critical goal under Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO), which requires all food service enterprises to implement a food waste diversion plan and file an annual Organics Diversion Plan (ODP). The purpose of this study was to identify trends in the diversion efforts of businesses of different sectors and sizes and to develop baseline adoption rates for each strategy by sector by analyzing the ODPs filed in 2017 and 2018. A second purpose was to study the real-world implementation of organics diversion strategies among Austin’s food service enterprises using a interviews with business operators. The study utilized mixed methods, including statistical methods such as the chi-square text, z-test and two-sample test of proportions to analyze the ODP data sets, and qualitative, semi-structured interviews with business managers and owners to better understand ODP implementation. The study confirmed that larger businesses were more likely to adopt organics diversion strategies than smaller businesses. The study also found a statistical increase in the adoption of waste prevention and recovery strategies among businesses that filed ODP information with the city of Austin for both 2017 and 2018. The interviews revealed that businesses were using novel service providers such as diversion management companies to meet the diversion requirements. These emerging business opportunities have the potential to benefit economically-insecure communities. Quantitative research was limited by a small sample size, an incomplete data set and a lack of granular data; future surveys should collect more detailed information for further statistical analyses. The results of this study can inform future research and help improve outreach efforts to encourage organics diversion among Austin’s food service enterprises.



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